What Depression Feels Like

Imagine a beautiful sunset. The clouds are a bright fiery orange, the sky is purple instead of blue and the sun is cherry red on the horizon. It’s so pretty it hurts. It’s the kind of natural wonder that makes people happy to be alive and thinking, because they got to experience it and then remember it. Maybe you take a picture with your phone so you can relive it.

Depression means you only remember the hurt. It reminds you of a similar sunset from your past when something bad happened. Or of an evening from your childhood when you were happy, but you can’t remember the happiness, just the loss of it. The bright colors feel grey. All you can think of is that the light is fading, the warmth of the day is going away.

And you feel like you’ve failed because you didn’t enjoy it. Your days are numbered, as they are for all people, and this heart-breakingly gorgeous act of nature only gives you the heartbreaking part. It hurts, physically. You aren’t injured, it’s an imbalance of chemicals in your brain. But knowing that doesn’t help the feeling that you are somehow responsible for the feeling. It feels like you’re going to throw up, even though you aren’t sick. You sigh deeply to try and relieve the pain, the way you do when you’re dry heaving to make the feeling go away. It doesn’t work.

You become numb. That doesn’t stop it from hurting, though. Things that make you happy normally just don’t. It’s like being in a fog, like in the Mist, except you almost wish something horrible would crawl out of it and kill you. Not all depressed people are suicidal, but it can and often does rob you of your desire to continue, so you just sit and stare. It’s like a prison that follows you. You avoid people because interactions hurt. You don’t want to bother other people, or similarly you don’t want to hear them try and use platitudes to make it better. Because so often that’s not for you, it’s for them. It’s why people tell you to cheer up.

If I could, I would. We don’t do this to bother you, and if you can’t handle a person being depressed, avoid them. It’s better for both of you.

What helps most, weirdly, is people with the same problem. It becomes a shared experience, which humans crave. It’s why we like concerts, parades and movie theaters. It’s a weird little subset of society that understands what you’re going through. You just want a hug, but you don’t want to see anyone or be touched. You might take medication, or go to therapy, or both, but it’s not bulletproof. It’s like a shield: It only protects part of you, and that dark cloud can creep around it.

You sometimes feel guilty because you can’t care about the greater problems of the world. Being exposed to them can make it even worse for you. Day to day life becomes a tragedy; each tiny problem becomes magnified and it feels like life is conspiring to beat the joy out of you. If you make a mistake, you feel like a useless sack of garbage who can’t do anything right. It wears down your self esteem, even if it’s just during and episode, ruining your self image. Sometimes I can’t even look at a photograph or my reflection in the eye, I feel shame for just existing.

People say “it gets better”, but they don’t understand: Everything can be fine, but that doesn’t matter, because it’s not that a commercial made you sad or something you read made you want to cry. That book or TV ad was likely a trigger. IT isn’t the problem, it merely tipped the cup that sends the feelings of emptiness and loss cascading through your brain like a flood. The antidepressants, vitamins, exercise, sunny day, happy music, mantras and whatever else you use to cope just don’t work all the time.

Depression is like having a tarp for a roof. It keeps the rain out, and the antidepressants are like duct tape, it helps, but sometimes it rains hard, and nothing can keep back the flood. Days like that feel endless. You do what you can, if you can do anything at all, to try and handle it, but sometimes it just hurts and you lack the energy to fight it, and sleep won’t come.

On days like that, remember you aren’t alone. It WILL pass. Life is worth living, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.

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